Oil Spills Are Commonplace, Decried, and Tolerated

Far from isolated mega-catastrophes — such as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska’s Prince William Sound — oil spills occur routinely around the world, causing environmental and economic damage, provoking investigations by regional governments, and often leaving the victims unsatisfied.

Entering the words “oil spill” in the Google News search engine returned more than 2,500 distinct articles published in the last 30 days on the topic.

At the top of the news right now is the 100-foot fountain of petroleum that smothered the Canadian town of Burnaby this week, after a pipeline was pierced by a road-excavation crew.

Fifty homes were evacuated and the contamination spread to the nearby Burrard Inlet, a harbor and wetlands ecosystem home to a variety of marine wildlife, including four species of salmon.

Experts told the Canadian Press that the cleanup will cost millions, and that the toxic effects of petroleum in soil, sand and water could last for decades.

According to the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, members of the road crew that breached the pipeline said it was improperly marked, a charge denied by the company that owns it.

Burnaby officials, meanwhile, say the city has strict guidelines to prevent such accidents.

International Problem
But Canada is not alone in its plight.

In Kenya, 40,000 liters of oil spilled from an overturned tanker truck into the nearby Nzoia River.

The Nation, based in Nairobi, reports that the river is already degraded from overfishing and deforestation, and that the spill could be a coup de grace for fish species there.

South Africa’s Saldanha Bay is also threatened by a spill from a ship that was refueling last weekend.

Environmentalists called for bolstered fines and enforcement, saying that the harbor is already degraded, and that oil has covered the water and shoreline, threatening fish, crustaceans and birds, including flamingos.

In Spain, the cleanup of tons of oil leaking from a sunken ship off the coast of Ibiza was set back by renewed leaks, after underwater welding failed to seal cracks in the ship’s hill.

In Scotland, authorities say an oil slick spreading through the Firth of Forth can only partly be blamed on a nearby refinery, but they are at a loss to identify other potential sources.

Lebanon’s coast remains polluted with oil spilled during Israel’s 2006 war with the Hezbollah militia.

The Lebanon Daily Star reports that spokespersons for the Environment and Public works ministries blame each other for the lack of action.

Domestic Disasters
Back in the United States, 813 reported oil and fuel spills have contaminated Prince William Sound from 1995-2005, despite new regulations and awareness following the Valdez disaster.

The latest saw 3,500 gallons of diesel fuel pour from a fishing vessel that grounded itself in well-marked waterways.

In Massachusetts, a state senator complained that four years after a “catastrophic” spill near Cape Cod, coastal waters are still vulnerable after the state’s Oil Spill Prevention Act was largely nullified by a federal court.

The U.S. Justice Department successfully argued that coastal regulation was the domain of the Coast Guard, not states. The ruling is currently under appeal; The Standard-Times of New Bedford, Mass., reports that more than 2 billion gallons of petroleum products pass through Cape Cod every year.

In New York, officials are suing ExxonMobil for 17 million gallons of oil spilled over 50 years in Brooklyn; CNN reports that even now oil is spilling into local waterways, which border on numerous refineries, including ExxonMobil properties. [SEE READER COMMENT BELOW FOR MORE.]

And a 72,000 gallon refinery spill affecting Oklahoma and Kansas residents was described by environmentalists as “another Love Canal.”

Lawyersandsettlements.com, a trade and consumer publication, claims that “thousands” of homes have been condemned, farm crops destroyed, and “hundreds” of fish killed.

Legal Solution?
The publication also says that the refinery was built in a low-income neighborhood, and that complaints of odors and pollution have been ignored, provoking a class action lawsuit by residents.

But legal recourse can be cold comfort.

In the Philippines, the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund turned down more than 125,000 claims over a spill near the island of Guimaras.

The fund said many claimants “failed to prove they were directly affected by the spill,” GMA News reported, and that 134 applications still needed final approval.

While a governmental task force said that “life in Guimaras has been restored,” a Wikipedia entry flagged for potential bias claims that the spill is an “ongoing environmental and economic disaster,” and “the worst oil spill” in Philippine history.


Google News Topic Search: “Oil Spills”

“Burnaby oil spill will have long-term toxic impact: experts”
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, July 25, 2007

“Oil-spill cleanup could cost millions”
Canadian Press, July 25, 2007

“Kenya: Experts Want Dangers of Oil Spills Tackled”
The Nation (Kenya), July 25, 2007

“Oil Spill in Saldanha Bay Poses Threat to Wildlife”
Cape Argus (South Africa), July 23, 2007

“Spain Deals With Oil Spill Near Island”
Associated Press, July 14, 2007

“Watchdog on alert after oil spill in Forth”
The Scotsman, July 20, 2007

“Environmental group presses ministry to clear coastline of polluted sand”
The Daily Star (Lebanon), July 25, 2007

“Cleanup starts on large diesel spill in Prince William Sound”
Associated Press, July 23, 2007

“Sen. Montigny says Buzzards Bay still ‘unprotected’ in oil spill aftermath”
The Standard Times (Massachusetts), July 24, 2007

“New York sues Exxon over oil spill”
CNN.com, July 17, 2007

“‘Another Love Canal’: Environmentalists Assess Oil Spill Dangers” — BIAS CONCERNS
Lawyers & Settlements, July 21, 2007

“Int’l body junks 125,000 Guimaras oil spill claims”
GMAnews.tv (Philippines), July 23, 2007

“Guimaras oil spill” — BIAS CONCERNS

10 thoughts on “Oil Spills Are Commonplace, Decried, and Tolerated

  1. You should do a little more research – the spill in New York being attributed to ExxonMobil is an underground contamination issue. Practically every coastal state has an agency overseeing ‘coastal’ oil spill response and all are diligent in their responsibilities. States have had to assume a primary role in many areas because the primary mission of the USCG is now security and spill response has been given a back seat. States with major ports such as Texas, Alaska and California have a 24-7-365 response mentality to every spill reported and are an example against your ‘tolerance’ of oil spills. International response capabilities are often hampered by lack of preparation and training in response techniques and a lack of local equipment. It seems in the future if you’re going to raise outcry on a ‘commonplace’ problem you should do a little more research than summarizing a few news articles.

  2. I disagree with your conclusions, KC. The takeaway for me in this article is that we’re addressing oil spills as isolated surprise emergencies.

    Let’s look at fossil fuel emergency response preparedness (or not) and disaster as one of the many expenses (a cost externalization onto taxpayers and the public) we pay INSTEAD OF cultivating alternative energy technologies and better ways of doing public transportation in the U.S.

    Argumentative defense of a piecemeal approach to not solving the REAL problem is a perspective that doesn’t resonate any longer. At least, that was what I got out of the article.

  3. KC, Kelly, Kathy, thanks for your notes.

    Kelly — yes, New Bedford. I have corrected that in the text above.

    KC — You correctly point that we’re just summarizing other articles as opposed to doing original research. These items are summaries of current reporting on the news of the day. We’ve been thinking a lot about how to brand or label these summaries so that is clearer. So thank you for more impetus to address that.

    Do you have any further information about the Buzzards Bay legal battle? That focuses entirely on the state-vs.federal oversight issue of spill prevention and response.

    The use of the words “commonplace” and “tolerated” in our headline was inspired by the overwhelming number of oil and fuel spills reported daily around the world, and the fact that they seem to be accepted as a routine part of life in the industrialized world. This to the extent that there are entire industries and sectors dedicated to spill remediation, both ecological and legal.

    Any suggestions for headline revisions? All changes and updates will be identified and tracked here.

    Thank you for reading and offering your feedback!

  4. Because I am an emergency wildlife responder, and most wildlfie emergencies involve oil spills, I have arranged so-called Google Alerts, to notify me of any oil spills, and oiled wildlfe situations, as they occur – I receive five to ten notifications a day, eacch notice containing three or more links, often to entirely unrelated events. Most of these are “small” spills: fuel trucks overturned, buildings with leaky diessel generators, under five hundred US gallons. The majority of these do not receive attention, but locally. In 2006 however, there were several big spills that received no response, primarily because of their locations. The easetern mediterranean saw its single largest spill event ever, when Israeli military bombed a power plant in Lebanon during the war between Israel and Hezbollah that occured in last summer. There was very little response to that spill, even though it was environmentally devestating to the inhabitants of the sea (human, fish, bird and more) from Lebanon to Cyprus and beyond, due of course to the fact that there was a war going on. In the NIger Delta the situation is horrendous. I recommend a Google Search using oil spill nigeria as the terms. No response at all mounted here due top whaat? Industry doesnt want one and industry runs the show in Nigeria – at least that’s my assessment.
    Viet Nam and the Phillipines saw really bad spills last year as well, and again with very limited response – stories circulated the internet of filipino prisoners donating their hair because a news story suggested, ridiculously, that human hair was very effective in mopping up oil. Meanwhile, fishing villages, fish and birds died.

    My point is that any single one of these may be misrepresented by seeing them only as news stories that invariably get some of the details wrong – but that is very clearly not the issue – what is at stake is the natural world that sustains us, and stories such as oil spills are as common as mice and more easily lived with.

    now google search LPG spills, or any other acute toxic event – and do not forget to consider taht all oil that we drill for is spilled, eventually, either from a pump, a ship, a can, a tank, or, and if all goes very well, our exhaust pipes – so you may as well google search climate change and global warming and teh war in iraq as well.

  5. We must accept that there will be spills at any given time and one should look to restoring the environment as quickly as possible. The first task is to detoxify the effect of spill so that the life is not irreparably damaged whether in water or on land. Cleanup should probably be on-site cleanup as this will not disturb the ecosystem as other methods may disturb and destroy the local fauna and flora. Let us face it. We need better solutions for cleanup.

  6. All that I can say is, there will never be a perfect solution to chemical spills, and there will always be these issues in the foreseeable future. So instead of bickering about them, why not take affirmative action? Oil corporations bicker with the state and oil rigging crews (when involved) about fault and blame; instead of examining this from whose fault it is, CLEAN IT UP. It’s our world and squabbling over blame will not help the partially maimed ecosystems whatsoever. And more so, with the affirmative action. Let’s take initiative and try and prevent chemical spills. Oil spill prevention should not be a backseat in state and federal eyes, despite the great amounts everyone else has to deal with. Would I pay a greater amount of taxes to help my environment? Yes. So let’s cut out this outrage and take some focus. Write to your senators. Take action, for the sake of the world, please.

  7. WW- Are you kidding me? Who the hell are you? Whose interests are you serving? Definitely not the people who actually care about dealing with the problem. You justify inaction through acceptance.
    “It’s our world and squabbling over blame will not help the partially maimed ecosystems whatsoever.” What the hell is a “partially maimed ecosystem”? You mean like ‘kinda destroyed’? How divorced from the natural world are you? Do you not get the love you clearly don’t feel you deserve? Fuck you- it IS our world. WE DO say how it ought to be, and we’re not doing that cause not enough people truly care. But thats really because they don’t recognize that they care as they’ve been so divorced from the connectedness amongst us all- and thats been engineered. But we can always step out of the matrix and accept the truth that we DO determine our reality- cause even if it doesn’t work out as we may want, it DEFINITELY won’t work out the way we want if we don’t make effort. Ethics should stem from the place of awareness our interconnectedness and then actions should follow ethics- ideally, anyhow.

  8. It is clear that these spills have become commonplace. Of course we should hold those who caused them, whether out of neglect, incompetence or outright malice, accountable.

    AHA is right, we don’t have to accept this. I ain’t buying what you’re selling anymore. We should demand that the corporate interests – whose wallets grow fatter at the expense of our environment – clean up their act. If they don’t agree, maybe it’s time to take the power back, opt out of their system. The system that tells us what to buy and what to think and that we should really just think more about how to clean up oil spills because they’re always going to happen! NO!

  9. Let me first start that i am a 17 year old still in highschool and i can clearly see we have a bigger problem than oil spills.
    I COMPLETLEY agree with kathy, funding for new and innovative ways to harness energy is imperative. The oil companies who are raking in RECORD profits should be sanctioned to contribute to a fix. I know i have to do something to better my generation NOW.